What can we learn from past nuclear accidents? A comparative assessment of emergency response to accidents at the Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants

Main Article Content

Maryna Batur
Reha Metin Alkan


Although nuclear power is still one of the most reliable and environmentally friendly energy sources, it has a strong public opposition, often because of concerns about its safety. These concerns are sparked by memories of the three major Nuclear Power Plant accidents, the consequences of which go beyond the radiation borders. A controversial issue in this domain is the effectiveness of emergency management. Therefore, we reviewed the emergency response to three Nuclear Power Plant accidents: Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima (2011). The aim of our research was to identify major problems that remain unresolved in nuclear emergency planning. We argue that not the accident itself, but rather how it was managed resulted in serious health consequences. We emphasize the need for increased attention to educating residents about the nuclear safety measures, as well as key aspects of the response. Our findings also suggest that it is necessary to focus on the shelter location selection considering the potential hazards from natural disasters specific to a particular country. Finally, the government and local authorities should be aware of possible economic losses in the event of an accident and take into account potential mass relocation in land management.

Article Details

How to Cite
Batur, M., & Alkan , R. M. . (2023). What can we learn from past nuclear accidents? A comparative assessment of emergency response to accidents at the Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima Nuclear Power Plants. Advanced Land Management, 3(2), 76–89. Retrieved from https://publish.mersin.edu.tr/index.php/alm/article/view/1075


Corey, G. R. (1979). A brief review of the accident at Three Mile Island. IAEA Bulletin, 21(5), 54-59.

Oe, M., Takebayashi, Y., Sato, H., & Maeda, M. (2021). Mental health consequences of the Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima nuclear disasters: a scoping review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18(14), 7478. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18147478

Yamada, M. (2012). A brief review of environmental impacts and health effects from the accidents at the Three Mile Islands, Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plants. Radiation Emergency Medicine, 1(1-2), 33-39.

Talbott, E. O., Youk, A. O., McHugh, K. P., Shire, J. D., Zhang, A., Murphy, B. P., & Engberg, R. A. (2000). Mortality among the residents of the Three Mile Island accident area: 1979-1992. Environmental Health Perspectives, 108(6), 545-552. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.00108545

Beresford, N. A., Fesenko, S., Konoplev, A., Skuterud, L., Smith, J. T., & Voigt, G. (2016). Thirty years after the Chernobyl accident: What lessons have we learnt?. Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, 157, 77-89. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvrad.2016.02.003

Steinhauser, G., Brandl, A., & Johnson, T. E. (2014). Comparison of the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents: a review of the environmental impacts. Science of the total environment, 470, 800-817. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.10.029

Funabashi, H. (2012). Why the Fukushima nuclear disaster is a man‐made calamity. International Journal of Japanese Sociology, 21(1), 65-75. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-6781.2012.01161.x

Evrard, O., Laceby, J. P., Lepage, H., Onda, Y., Cerdan, O., & Ayrault, S. (2015). Radiocesium transfer from hillslopes to the Pacific Ocean after the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant accident: A review. Journal of environmental radioactivity, 148, 92-110. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvrad.2015.06.018

Kim, Y., Kim, M., & Kim, W. (2013). Effect of the Fukushima nuclear disaster on global public acceptance of nuclear energy. Energy policy, 61, 822-828. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2013.06.107

Nishikawa, M., Kato, T., Homma, T., & Takahara, S. (2016). Changes in risk perceptions before and after nuclear accidents: Evidence from Japan. Environmental Science & Policy, 55, 11-19. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2015.08.015

Kitada, A. (2013). Public opinion on nuclear power generation measured in continuous polls changes after Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident over the past 30 years. Transactions of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, 12(3), 177-196. https://doi.org/10.3327/taesj.J12.039

Suzuki, Y., Yabe, H., Yasumura, S., Ohira, T., Niwa, S. I., Ohtsuru, A., ... & Abe, M. (2015). Psychological distress and the perception of radiation risks: the Fukushima health management survey. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 93, 598-605. https://doi.org/10.2471/BLT.14.146498

Cwikel, J., Abdelgani, A., Goldsmith, J. R., Quastel, M., & Yevelson, I. I. (1997). Two-year follow up study of stress-related disorders among immigrants to Israel from the Chernobyl area. Environmental Health Perspectives, 105(suppl 6), 1545-1550. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.97105s61545

Cwikel, J. G., Abdelgani, A., Rozovski, U., Kordysh, E., Goldsmith, J. R., & Quastel, M. R. (2000). Long-term stress reactions in new immigrants to Israel exposed to the Chernobyl accident. Anxiety, Stress and Coping, 13(4), 413-439. https://doi.org/10.1080/10615800008248344

Kordysh, E. A., Goldsmith, J. R., Quastel, M. R., Poljak, S., Merkin, L., Cohen, R., & Gorodischer, R. (1995). Health effects in a casual sample of immigrants to Israel from areas contaminated by the Chernobyl explosion. Environmental health perspectives, 103(10), 936-941. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.95103936

Harada, K. H., Niisoe, T., Imanaka, M., Takahashi, T., Amako, K., Fujii, Y., ... & Koizumi, A. (2014). Radiation dose rates now and in the future for residents neighboring restricted areas of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(10), E914-E923. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.131568411

Ohira, T., Shimura, H., Hayashi, F., Nagao, M., Yasumura, S., Takahashi, H., & Fukushima Health Management Survey Group. (2020). Absorbed radiation doses in the thyroid as estimated by UNSCEAR and subsequent risk of childhood thyroid cancer following the Great East Japan Earthquake. Journal of Radiation Research, 61(2), 243-248. https://doi.org/10.1093/jrr/rrz104

Shimura, T., Yamaguchi, I., Terada, H., Okuda, K., Svendsen, E. R., & Kunugita, N. (2015). Radiation occupational health interventions offered to radiation workers in response to the complex catastrophic disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Journal of radiation research, 56(3), 413-421. https://doi.org/10.1093/jrr/rru110

Yoshida, K., Shinkawa, T., Urata, H., Nakashima, K., Orita, M., Yasui, K., ... & Takamura, N. (2016). Psychological distress of residents in Kawauchi village, Fukushima Prefecture after the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station: the Fukushima Health Management Survey. PeerJ, 4, e2353. https://doi.org/10.7717/peerj.2353

Tsujiuchi, T. (2021). Post-traumatic stress due to structural violence after the Fukushima Disaster. In Japan Forum, 33(2), 161-188. https://doi.org/10.1080/09555803.2018.1552308

Brook, B. W., Alonso, A., Meneley, D. A., Misak, J., Blees, T., & van Erp, J. B. (2014). Why nuclear energy is sustainable and has to be part of the energy mix. Sustainable Materials and Technologies, 1, 8-16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.susmat.2014.11.001

Yeşil, S., & Gökeri, G. (2018). On-site emergency planning and response approach for nuclear power plants. Turkish Journal of Nuclear Sciences, 30(2), 32-49.

Perrow, C. (1982). The President’s commission and the normal accident. Accident at Three Mile Island: The Human Dimensions (278).

Murakami, T. (2021). A historical review and analysis on the selection of nuclear reactor types and implications to development programs for advanced reactors; A Japanese study. Energy Reports, 7, 3428-3436. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.egyr.2021.05.049

Afanasieva, A. A., Burlakov, E. V., Krayushkin, A. V., & Kubarev, A. V. (1993). The characteristics of the RBMK core. Nuclear technology, 103(1), 1-9. https://doi.org/10.13182/NT93-A34825

Martinez-Val, J. M., Aragones, J. M., Mínguez, E., Perlado, J. M., & Velarde, G. (1990). An analysis of the physical causes of the Chernobyl accident. Nuclear Technology, 90(3), 371-388. https://doi.org/10.13182/NT90-A34401

Ohnishi, T. (2012). The disaster at Japan's Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and the resulting spread of radioisotope contamination. Radiation research, 177(1), 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1667/RR2830.1

Cyranoski, D. (2011). Japan faces up to failure of its earthquake preparations: systems for forecasting, early warning and tsunami protection all fell short on 11 March. Nature, 471(7340), 556-558.

Pellegrini, M., Suzuki, H., Mizouchi, H., & Naitoh, M. (2014). Early phase accident progression analysis of Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 by the SAMPSON code. Nuclear Technology, 186(2), 241-254. https://doi.org/10.13182/NT13-107

Ohba, T., Liutsko, L., Schneider, T., Barquinero, J. F., Crouaïl, P., Fattibene, P., ... & Cardis, E. (2021). The SHAMISEN Project: Challenging historical recommendations for preparedness, response and surveillance of health and well-being in case of nuclear accidents: Lessons learnt from Chernobyl and Fukushima. Environment International, 146, 106200. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2020.106200

Ashley, S. F., Vaughan, G. J., Nuttall, W. J., Thomas, P. J., & Higgins, N. A. (2017). Predicting the cost of the consequences of a large nuclear accident in the UK. Process Safety and Environmental Protection, 112, 96-113. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psep.2017.08.032

Ohba, T., Tanigawa, K., & Liutsko, L. (2021). Evacuation after a nuclear accident: Critical reviews of past nuclear accidents and proposal for future planning. Environment international, 148, 106379. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2021.106379

Cutter, S., & Barnes, K. (1982). Evacuation behaviors and Three Mile Island. Disasters, 6(2), 116-124.

Golding, D., & Kasperson, R. E. (1988). Emergency planning and nuclear power: looking to the next accident. Land Use Policy, 5(1), 19-36. https://doi.org/10.1016/0264-8377(88)90004-X

Stallings, R. A. (1984). Evacuation behavior at Three Mile Island. International Journal of Mass Emergencies & Disasters, 2(1), 11-26. https://doi.org/10.1177/0280727084002001

Zeigler, D. J., Brunn, S. D., & Johnson Jr, J. H. (1981). Evacuation from a nuclear technological disaster. Geographical review, 1-16. https://doi.org/10.2307/214548

Boscarino, J. E. (2019). From Three Mile Island to Fukushima: the impact of analogy on attitudes toward nuclear power. Policy Sciences, 52(1), 21-42. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11077-018-9333-5

Ager, A. A., Lasko, R., Myroniuk, V., Zibtsev, S., Day, M. A., Usenia, U., ... & Evers, C. R. (2019). The wildfire problem in areas contaminated by the Chernobyl disaster. Science of the Total Environment, 696, 133954. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.133954


Christian, D. (2019). Chernobyl: re-creating a nuclear tragedy. History Australia, 16(4), 763-765. https://doi.org/10.1080/14490854.2019.1670082

Saenko, V., Ivanov, V., Tsyb, A., Bogdanova, T., Tronko, M., Demidchik, Y., & Yamashita, S. (2011). The Chernobyl accident and its consequences. Clinical Oncology, 23(4), 234-243. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clon.2011.01.502

Loganovsky, K., Havenaar, J. M., Tintle, N. L., Guey, L. T., Kotov, R., & Bromet, E. J. (2008). The mental health of clean-up workers 18 years after the Chernobyl accident. Psychological medicine, 38(4), 481-488. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0033291707002371


The National Diet of Japan. (2012). The official report of the Fukushima nuclear accident independent Investigation Commission. The official report of the Fukushima nuclear accident independent Investigation Commission, Tokyo.

Sawano, T., Nishikawa, Y., Ozaki, A., Leppold, C., Takiguchi, M., Saito, H., ... & Tsubokura, M. (2019). Premature death associated with long-term evacuation among a vulnerable population after the Fukushima nuclear disaster: a case report. Medicine, 98(27), e16162. https://doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000016162

Kim, S., & Kim, S. (2017). Impact of the Fukushima nuclear accident on belief in rumors: The role of risk perception and communication. Sustainability, 9(12), 2188. https://doi.org/10.3390/su9122188

Sugimoto, A., Krull, S., Nomura, S., Morita, T., & Tsubokura, M. (2012). The voice of the most vulnerable: lessons from the nuclear crisis in Fukushima, Japan. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 90, 629-630.

Hasegawa, A., Ohira, T., Maeda, M., Yasumura, S., & Tanigawa, K. (2016). Emergency responses and health consequences after the Fukushima accident; evacuation and relocation. Clinical Oncology, 28(4), 237-244.

Yajima, K., Kurihara, O., Ohmachi, Y., Takada, M., Omori, Y., Akahane, K., ... & Akashi, M. (2015). Estimating annual individual doses for evacuees returning home to areas affected by the Fukushima nuclear accident. Health physics, 109(2), 122-133. https://doi.org/10.1097/HP.0000000000000308

World Health Organization, (2021). Fukushima: radiation exposure, https://world-nuclear.org/information-library/safety-and-security/safety-of-plants/appendices/fukushima-radiation-exposure.aspx

Ohtsuru, A., Tanigawa, K., Kumagai, A., Niwa, O., Takamura, N., Midorikawa, S., ... & Clarke, M. (2015). Nuclear disasters and health: lessons learned, challenges, and proposals. The Lancet, 386(9992), 489-497. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(15)60994-1

Sun, Z., Imano, H., Eguchi, E., Hayashi, F., Ohira, T., Cui, R., ... & Iso, H. (2022). The associations between evacuation status and lifestyle-related diseases in Fukushima after the Great East Japan Earthquake: the Fukushima Health Management Survey. International journal of environmental research and public health, 19(9), 5661. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph19095661

Murakami, M., Takebayashi, Y., Ono, K., Kubota, A., & Tsubokura, M. (2020). The decision to return home and wellbeing after the Fukushima disaster. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 47, 101538. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2020.101538

Mimura, N., Yasuhara, K., Kawagoe, S., Yokoki, H., & Kazama, S. (2011). Damage from the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami-a quick report. Mitigation and adaptation strategies for global change, 16, 803-818. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11027-011-9304-z

Nikiforov, Y. E. (2006). Radiation-induced thyroid cancer: what we have learned from Chernobyl. Endocrine pathology, 17(4), 307-318. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12022-006-0001-5

Chirikova, E., McConnell, R. J., O’Kane, P., Yauseyenka, V., Little, M. P., Minenko, V., ... & Zablotska, L. B. (2022). Association between exposure to radioactive iodine after the Chernobyl accident and thyroid volume in Belarus 10-15 years later. Environmental Health, 21(1), 5. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-021-00820-0

Batur, M., & Alkan, R. M. (2023). Critical issues in emergency planning for nuclear power plant accidents. Intercontinental Geoinformation Days, 6, 266-269.